Speaking at the recent Central Conference on Work Relating to Foreign Affairs, Xi Jinping spelled out China’s new foreign-policy vision, calling it necessary because, “China has entered a crucial stage of achieving the great renewal of the Chinese nation.” Xi recognized the “notable progress” China’s diplomacy has achieved since he assumed top leadership role in November 2012 at the 18th National Party Congress, and he also gave his prediction as to how the international landscape would evolve. Many have characterized his speech as a diplomatic manifesto to secure the “Chinese dream”. The following are four takeaways from the speech.
First, Xi redefined the aims and role of diplomacy for China. Apart from reaffirming the familiar need to pursue peace, development and win-win cooperation, properly manage domestic and international interests, protect sovereignty, security and development interests and secure a friendly environment and strategic opportunities for China’s peaceful development, Xi stated for the first time that development and security are “two major priorities” equally high on the Party agenda and the need to “focus on the overriding goal of peaceful development and national renewal.” For Xi, the number-one mission of diplomacy is apparently to buttress efforts toward a nation of initial prosperity and carry the “two century goals” and the Chinese dream to their fruition.
Second, Xi shared his perspective on the current world state and where it’s headed. In his speech, Xi urged the Party not to underestimate the complexity of the international situation and the painfulness of global economic readjustment and the gravity of ongoing tensions in different areas of the world. Xi warned the Party that there is no end in sight in the contest over international order and asked the Party to keep a watchful eye on China’s neighborhood fraught with uncertainties. Nevertheless, Xi also sees the world as a place moving steadfastly toward multipolarity, economic globalization, greater peace and development, a reformed international system and continued prosperity and stability in the Asia-Pacific.
Xi then went on to argue what all of this would mean for China. He made the observation that the way in which the center of gravity is shifting has increased the likelihood of peace and development in the wider world and that China remains in an “important period of strategic opportunity” with much to look forward to. “Our biggest opportunity lies in China’s growing strength,” Xi said, “On the other hand, we should be mindful of various risks and challenges and skillfully defuse potential crises and turn them into opportunities for China’s development.”
Xi’s words very much reflect how much the world has changed today: waning western dominance in world affairs, the collective rise of the emerging markets and developing countries, China’s emergence as the second largest economy, and enormous interdependence between China and the world economy. It is vital that all these factors be taken into account in understanding the significance of this conference.
Third, Xi presented the idea of “a distinctive diplomatic approach befitting its role as a major country.” In effect, Xi is saying to the world that China, a socialist developing country, has already become a major country ready to assume its place in the world. Xi explained that the approach has three components: 1) the need to follow the CPC’s leadership, the independent foreign policy of peace and the path of peaceful development without giving away what are legitimately China’s core interests and to shore up democracy and justice in international relations based on China’s abiding belief in equality among all countries irrespective of their size, strength and wealth; 2) win-win cooperation; and 3) emphasis on putting principles first while looking after China’s interests, such as zero interference in other countries’ internal affairs, respect for people’s own choice of a country’s development path and social system and negotiated solutions to inter-state disputes.
Last but not least, Xi gave a complete list of China’s diplomatic priorities. It is quite telling that neighborhood diplomacy should come first among all seven priorities, given what has been going on in this part of the world. But it’s also a sign of China’s willingness to commit itself to peace and amicable relations with its neighbors and its genuine desire to work with countries in the region toward a “community of common destiny” featuring partnerships, prosperity and connectivity, as reiterated by Xi on many occasions since coming into power.
The list contains three other traditional priorities: 1) success in managing ties with major powers to keep relations positive and stable; 2) solidarity and cooperation with developing countries; and 3) multilateral diplomacy aimed at progressing the international system and global governance to allow greater say and representation for China and the rest of the developing world.
The final three priorities are fairly recent additions. Xi stressed the role of concrete cooperation, particularly his very own initiatives of a Silk Road economic belt and a Maritime Silk Road, as one way to bring countries together and signal the world that China too is contributing to the common good. He made it a priority to exercise principles in matters related to China’s interests and improve the effectiveness of foreign aid. He vowed to protect China’s interests abroad by further strengthening its capacity-building and investing more resources. By adding these three priorities, Xi has further demonstrated to the world that China’s diplomacy is ready to take on a bigger role for China and for the world.